07/26/2013 06:15 pm ET Updated Sep 25, 2013

Corporations Don't Commit Crimes -- People Commit Crimes

Let's face it -- corporate fines for criminal conduct are a farce. Shareholders who are not guilty of the wrongdoing and many of whom did not even own the company's stock at the time of the criminal activity, in effect, pay the fine. The executives who committed or directed the criminal conduct go unpunished. I doubt that they even receive a reduction in compensation. Halliburton which pleaded guilty to "destruction of critical evidence after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill" will pay a fine of $200,000 and be placed on probation for three years. (NY Times 7/26/13) What particularly caught my eye was the agreement by the government that it will not pursue any further prosecutions. Wow, wouldn't any criminal want to make that deal!

Just as a reminder -- the explosion killed 11 workers and soiled hundreds of miles of beaches. I have no way of knowing whether or not anyone at Halliburton is guilty of any other criminal conduct, but a payment of $200,000 for a full grant of immunity seems to be a heck of a bargain. It certainly doesn't constitute punishment for a company of this size nor does it serve as a deterrent -- certainly not to the individuals involved who go unscathed. Halliburton has been here before on a couple of occasions, and it doesn't seem to have made any difference. It has paid some of the highest fines on record.

This incident caused me to glance at other prior corporate fines for criminal conduct and there are many and the amounts are huge, but the size is really irrelevant. The shareholders pay or the cost is passed on to the consumer. The guilty are not being punished. Halliburton is joined by such corporate giants as BP, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly and others. Granted, some high level executives have been prosecuted for their crimes, but the fault lies in those instances where the corporation pays and the guilty go unindicted and unpunished.

Corporations don't commit crimes. People commit crimes.